Sunday, July 10, 2011
'I’ll Never Let You Go'
Children have this fabulous gift for shaking you up with just a few words.
I had this fact reinforced for me the other night when I was talking with Ben, my neighbor’s four-year-old.
Ben is a really sweet kid. He always greets me with this excited “hi!” whenever he sees me and then he’ll tell me what he’s up to and ask me all sorts of questions.
“He always looks for you,” his mother told me. Well, in the interests of full disclosure, I always look for him.
Last week while relaxing in Central Park, I got a Frisbee advertising the Museum of Modern Art and since I have no use for the thing, I gave it to Ben. He responded by giving me a hug that made me one very happy guy. It really is better to give than receive.
While I was speaking with Ben on his front stoop, he went and got the Frisbee and started reading all the information printed across the front of it. He did a pretty good job, too, except for pronouncing “MOMA” as “Momma.” Hey, close enough.
“Well, Ben,” I said finally, “I’d better go inside and have dinner.”
Maybe the words “dinner” and “momma” triggered something in his mind, but whatever the reason, Ben had a question for me.
“Where’s your mommy?”
I had nothing to say for a few seconds. My family will mark the ninth anniversary of mother’s death this week, so I was a little stunned.
“Oh, she’s gone,” I said. “She’s in Heaven.”
“She’s not coming back?” Ben asked.
“No,” I said, “she’s not.”
I started saying something about why it’s so important to be good to your mother while she’s still with you, but I stopped myself.
When you’re four years old you believe that Mommy will be around forever, that she’ll always be there to take care of you and make things right. There was no need to tell Ben otherwise.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a decade since I got the call from my mother’s doctor to get over to the hospital on Staten Island where she was being treated. She was gone before I arrived.
That was truly the worst day of my life, the day when I finally had to accept that Mommy wouldn’t be around forever. Though to be honest, I’m still having some trouble with that.
I have so many memories of my mother, but recently my sister shared something with me that I was too young to remember.
She recalled a time when I was a baby and my mother was holding me up in my playpen. She was tickling me, my sister said, making me laugh, while saying “I’ll never let you go!”
Naturally I started blubbering as soon as my sister told me this.
“That was supposed to be a happy memory,” she said with some exasperation.
I know, I know, but sometimes memories can be both precious and painful. The ones that fill your heart can also break it and you can laugh and cry at the same time.
I sometimes wish I had total recall so I could actually remember that day myself, but maybe it’s better to experience it second hand.
And now as we clean out our parents’ house and prepare to sell it, letting go is pretty much the order of the day. We’re taking the things we want—photos, furniture, and other such stuff—and giving away or throwing out the rest.
This is a very difficult process, as we resurrect all kinds of memories. It’s like getting open-heart surgery without the anesthetic.
My childhood is long over and the life we knew in our house is gone. It’s Ben’s turn to play and run around the backyard before coming inside to have dinner with Mommy. I hope he enjoys every minute of it.
We’ll sell the house and I’ll find somewhere else to live. But wherever I go, I want my mother to know one thing.
I’ll never let you go.